Hank Aaron: The Most Underrated Player in Baseball History

Jesse MotiffSenior Analyst IJune 17, 2009

It's hard to imagine that the player who held the all-time home run record for 33 years as underrated, but Hank Aaron has lived his life being largely unnoticed and underappreciated by the baseball world.

Aaron was voted the fifth "greatest baseball player" by The Sporting News when they ranked the 100 greatest players in 1999. Aaron ranked behind Ruth, Mays, Cobb, and Walter Johnson.

It was the latest in a life-long list of injustices against one of the true legends and gentlemen of the game.

There are multiple reasons as to why Aaron has been constantly overlooked.

Aaron chased the most hallowed record in all of sport, and he did it as a black man in a country that still didn't embrace diversity.

If Mickey Mantle had been the one chasing Ruth, Mantle would have been embraced by the entire county, and all the racial bigotry that Aaron dealt with never would have been an issue.

Another reason why Aaron isn't as beloved as he should be is due to the markets he played in. Although Milwaukee was the first city in baseball to break two million in attendance, it was not the major metropolitan market like New York or Chicago.

The Braves moved to Atlanta for the 1966 season, but the country was far different geographically 40 years ago. Atlanta was new to baseball due to the expansion to the southeast. The Braves never drew more than 20,000 per season in Aaron's time in Atlanta.

Aaron also became a victim of his own success. He was a consistently good player and never really experienced a drop off in his production until after he turned 40. Fans became accustomed to his greatness and expected him to put up big numbers year after year.

Aaron began his professional career in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952. The 18-year-old Aaron was a hard-hitting shortstop and didn't stay with the Clowns very long.

After only three months, Aaron received contract offers from the New York Giants and the Boston Braves. Could you imagine an outfield that would have consisted of Aaron, Willie Mays, and Monte Irvin?

Aaron, of course, decided to sign with the Braves and began his career with the Eau Claire Bears in Wisconsin, in 1952. While with the Bears, Aaron broke his habit of swinging the bat cross-handed, something he had done all his life.

The 1953 season saw Aaron play for the Jacksonville Tars in the South Atlantic League. Aaron won the MVP award for the league that season and led the Tars to the league championship.

For the season, Aaron led the league in batting average (.362), runs (115), hits (208), doubles (36), runs batted in (125), and total bases (338).

Aaron started his career with the Braves to open the 1954 season. He had moderate success that season, finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

The following season saw Aaron start one of the most remarkable streaks in the history of baseball. He hit 27 home runs that season. It was the first of twenty straight seasons with at least 20 home runs.

In a game that is beloved for the numbers it produces, no one ever had better numbers than Aaron.

He had a career batting average of .305. He is the career leader in runs batted in (2,297), most extra base hits (1,477), and amassed the most career total bases (6,856).

Add to that being number two all-time in home runs (755) and at-bats (12,364), third in hits (3,771) and games played (3,298), and tied for fourth with runs scored (2,174).

One of the most telling stats of Aaron's greatness is the fact that if you take away his 755 career home runs, he still would have finished his career with more than 3,000 hits. That is a testament to his all-around game and not simply being a great power hitter.

Aaron won three gold gloves and finished in the top ten of MVP voting thirteen times in his career.

Aaron is now 75, and in the twilight of his life. He handled Barry Bonds passing him on the all-time home run list with a grace and dignity that Bonds could only dream of having.

No one will ever doubt the greatness of Hank Aaron. He had to deal with the ghost of an icon, racism, and bad location. He overcame all of that to become a true pillar in the history of the game.

Aaron deserves to be embraced for all he did on and off the field. Unfortunately, everything he over came as a player may be exactly what holds him back from being viewed in his rightful place in history.


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